Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Debunking Still More Historical Myths


During the American Revolution, Westchester's fertile farms were looted so often by both sides the inhabitants frequently became looters themselves, if only to survive.
Called the "neutral ground," the countryside eventually became a sinister wasteland full of marauding bands of outlaws.
Many of its guerrillas switched allegiance between rebel and loyalist as circumstances suited them.

Westchester’s Accidental Heroes
On Saturday morning, September 23, 1780, John Paulding, 24, Isaac Van Wart, 17, and David Williams, 24, members of an impromptu patriot patrol, are playing cards near the bridge over Clark’s Kill (now called "André's Brook"), the northern boundary of Tarrytown.
Actually they are "volunteer militiamen" operating under a recently enacted New York law permitting them to claim property found on a captured enemy. The trio are part of a larger group of seven self-appointed freelancers hoping to intercept a smuggler or trader taking advantage of the active commerce still carried on between the loyalist city and patriot countryside.
Meanwhile, a worried horseman, John Anderson, heads southwest through the Pocantico Hills on the old Bedford-Tarrytown-Road (Route 448). John Anderson is the name on the pass he carries signed by Gen. Benedict Arnold. He is actually Major John André, 30, deputy Adjutant General to British Gen. Henry Clinton, Commander-in-Chief of British forces in America.
Anderson is returning to British-occupied New York City after a surreptitious meeting with American General Benedict Arnold, commander of the patriot stronghold at West Point.
He reaches the Albany Post Road (Route 9) just north of Clark's Kill. After consulting his sketch map, Anderson gallops his horse across the bridge over the little stream marking the northern boundary of Tarrytown and makes his way up the slope. A grim-faced John Paulding pointing a musket directly at him suddenly confronts him.
More than six feet tall, an unusual height for the time, Paulding has an air of authority reinforced by the flintlock. Recently detained by the British in New York City after visiting his fiancé there, he wears the uniform jacket of a Jaeger, a mercenary German rifleman.
It is unmistakable--green with red piping. The jacket helped Paulding to escape from detention in the North Dutch Church in New York City. The two other members of Paulding's group gather around.  
Paulding's distinctive jacket convinces Anderson he is among friends. Instead of showing the pass from Arnold that had worked so successfully at other patriot checkpoints, John Anderson makes a monumental blunder.
"My lads," he says, "I hope you belong to our party." 
"What party might that be?" Paulding asks, innocently.
"The lower party," Anderson answers. The term is a geographical euphemism for the loyalists in British-occupied New York City.
Paulding assures him, "Oh, we do, we do." He adds, "My clothing shows that." 
Relieved that his ordeal is over, Anderson announces, "I am a British officer and have been up in the country on particular business, and would not wish to be detained a minute." To prove that he is an officer, he takes out a gold watch, something no ordinary soldier would carry. 
At this, Paulding reveals that they are patriots and orders him to dismount. Anderson blanches and sighs deeply. Thinking fast, he says, "God bless my soul, a body must do anything these times to get along." Now he belatedly produces Benedict Arnold's pass.
Paulding, the only one of the three who can read or write, studies it.
"You had best let me go, or you will bring yourselves into trouble," Anderson warns, "for your stopping me will detain General Arnold's business. I am going to Dobbs Ferry to meet a person there and get information for him."
Paulding reflects for a minute. "I hope you will not be offended. We do not mean to take anything from you, but there are many bad people on the road, and I don't know but that you may be one. What is your name?"
The prisoner tells him, "John Anderson." It is the name on General Arnold's pass.
Nevertheless, the three escort him into a nearby clump of bushes. Paulding tells Williams to strip-search the prisoner. Anderson removes his outer clothing. It reveals nothing incriminating. Next, he is told to remove his boots, which also conceal nothing. His captors notice that his stockings fit badly and order him to remove them. Inside one are three sheets of paper. 
Paulding examines these and exclaims, "He's a spy!" The other stocking contains three other papers. Some are in Arnold's handwriting. Anderson refuses to say how he came by the incriminating papers; offering only the patently lame excuse that he received them "of a man at Pine's Bridge, a stranger to me."
An unusual exchange ensues that has troubled historians ever since. Based on their later testimony, the motives of André’s captors may have been less than patriotic. Paulding asks him what he would give to be let go. "Any sum you want," is the answer.
"A hundred guineas with the horse, saddle, bridle--and your watch?" (A guinea was a gold coin worth a pound and a shilling, a total of 21 shillings. The gold coin has not been minted since 1813. Certain amounts, such as philanthropic contributions and bequests, are still quoted in guineas.)
Anderson agrees, "Yes, and the money shall be sent here if you want."
Will you give more?" asks Paulding.
"Any amount you may name, in cash or dry goods," Anderson assures him.
Eventually, the amount promised is raised to 10,000 guineas--a king's ransom. Anderson offers to write a letter to be sent to the British outpost at Dobbs Ferry for the money. Fearing this might result in their capture or in a retaliatory attack, the trio declines. His captors take his horse, bridle and saddle, gold watch, and the Continental paper money.  He also surrenders a silver watch.
Bottom of Form
Lofty patriotic motives were later attributed to the three captors of Major John André, but their real reason probably was booty. The captors later sold André's silver watch, horse and bridle, and divided the money among the seven members of their original party.
Paulding, Van Wart and Williams were each given the thanks of Congress, a silver medal bearing the inscription “Fidelity,” an annual federal pension of $200 and a farm by New York State.
In 1817, when Paulding applied to Congress for an increase in the amount of his annuity. Benjamin Tallmadge, by then a member of Congress from Connecticut, opposed any increase because Paulding and his companions had been amply rewarded for their patriotism in making André a prisoner. He persuaded Congress not to grant the men a requested pension increase, publicly assailing their credibility and motivations.
Tallmadge, who had headed George Washington's secret service, presented evidence based on his interrogation of André. The British spy had asserted that the three Americans had ripped up his saddle and the cape of his coat in search of money. Finding none, one of the party suggested, "He may have it in his boots."
Ironically, it was their search for money in André’s boots that led to the discovery of the papers that sealed his fate. Major John André was hanged as a spy nine days later on October 2, 1780.

The Mislabeled Battle
We call it the Battle of Bunker Hill. To be historically accurate, it should be called the Battle of Breed's Hill. Had the battle indeed been fought principally on Bunker Hill, the outcome would have been vastly different.
In 1775, the British were bottled up in Boston by American forces. Bunker Hill and Breed's Hill, connected to the mainland by narrow Charleston Neck, gave commanding views of Boston harbor. Col. William Prescott was ordered to fortify Bunker Hill. He crossed Charlestown Neck with 1,000 men.
Upon arriving at the base of Bunker Hill, Prescott asked his officers for their advice. After a two-hour discussion, it was decided to erect the main fortification on Breed's Hill and a secondary defense on Bunker Hill.
This was a critical error. Military experts believe that 110-foot-high Bunker Hill could have been made virtually impregnable. Breed's Hill, only 62 feet high, was untenable--as the outcome of the battle proved--and had no strategic value to the Americans.
Working at night, Prescott's men threw up a well-designed earthwork on Breed's Hill, protected by outlying breastworks. To Gen. William Howe, the British commander, this affront was intolerable.
Howe cannonaded the defenses from warships in the harbor and landed redcoats from landing barges. Heavily-laden British soldiers toiled up the slopes of Breed's Hill, only to be met by withering fire from the defenders, who had been ordered to target officers, easily identifiable by the metal gorgets they wore around their necks.
The British fell back and regrouped. A second time the redcoats struggled up the slope and were again met with the same intense fire. American Gen. Israel Putnam rode to nearby Bunker Hill to get volunteers to reinforce the defenses on Breed's Hill. He explained his lack of success to Colonel Prescott by saying, "I could not drive the dogs." Prescott is alleged to have observed wryly that he "might have led them up."
After a third devastating advance up the hill, the British took the redoubt. The American militia, short of ammunition and lacking bayonets, retreated.
American casualties totaled 140 killed and 301 wounded; of the latter, 30 were captured. British losses were heavier: 226 dead and 828 wounded.
American targeting of officers took a terrible toll. Every one of Howe's officers was either killed or wounded. Twenty major battles were fought during the Revolution. One-eighth of all British officers killed in these 20 battles fell at the Bunker Hill action; one-sixth of all British officers wounded in these 20 battles were wounded in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

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